Saturday, October 31, 2015


If you were born before 1980, chances are sometime before the age of eight you were poured into a pair of ridiculously stiff, scratchy, lacy tights, or garroted by a torturous element of fashion called a bowtie. Once properly checked and in check, you were given the directive: "DO. NOT. Get dirty." And by "get dirty", what was meant was muddy, dusty, rumpled, wrinkled, smudged, undressed, stained, or otherwise altered from your present state of discomfort. If you were sitting, you stayed seated until you had bed sores. If you were standing, you stood until your legs swelled and varicose veins formed. But, you DID NOT "get dirty." It is my understanding there was an island of exile for children who chose to ignore this command. I never had the guts to personally validate this; the fear of reprisal was quite enough.

I grew up thinking that being a Christian was a lot like being etched into submission by lacy tights, or threatened into obedience by a mother very close to the edge. Jesus would die on a cross for me, clean me all up, and I would just get dirty again. I'd let Him down. It was an endless cycle: collapsing in repentance and surrender, bathing in a pool of cleansing blood, putting on my new duds, and mucking it all up before breakfast. Nothing He could do could keep me from Parental wrath and the isle of exile. Eventually I gave up trying.

But "no longer trying" was just how God wanted me to be. He never intended me to try to stay clean. In fact, throughout His ministry, Jesus had compassion on the worst of sinners, but for those pretending, those trying to justify themselves? He hid the meaning of His life-saving words from them. He knew their hearts, and knew they were so busy being their own god and observing their own religion, they refused to see their need for relationship with Him. The minute I stopped trying, I came face to face with the consequences of my decisions; He opened my eyes to the Goodness that only He is; He dealt with me, not the spit-shined, dolled-up image of me I had manufactured; He put the horse right back in front of that cart, and changed my heart. The willingness to strip off my tights and scuff up my shoes a bit -- even in front of my friends in the church -- brought me to a place where Jesus could fix me for good. Sure, He'd cleaned things up a long time ago, but as long as I wanted to tell Him what to do with it and how to do it, He'd never been able to change me from the inside. Tip-toeing lightly and not getting wrinkled might make for great appearances, but gets very little done in the Kingdom. The last thing God wants is a wax museum of cleaned up, rank and file Christians sitting lifeless, trying not to get dirty.

And the best part is that freedom has given me the desire to want to stay clean. God's Spirit -- if I allow -- works in me, changing me, even taking over sometimes, so that as I go about my day praying, reading God's Word, seeking His direction and His will, looking for openings to serve and  worship Him, being yielded to what He is doing, I find myself "staying clean" without even trying.

I won't be squeezing into scratchy tights anytime soon. I'm not even sure I'll stay clean until Sunday.  But I really want to, and I know I no longer have to try.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lean Back

A couple years ago someone came up with the most revolutionary catch phrase of the twenty-first century: Moving forward. It was the more concise "from this point on," and it took the business world by storm. Marketing giants missed the mark, however, and never capitalized, fumbling their "Where's the beef?" moment. "Moving forward" became the most overused two words in corporate history:

"Moving forward, there will be no more smoking in company vehicles." So, you can only smoke when stopped?

"Moving forward, avoid backing in traffic." Isn't that redundant?

My mom has dementia. She came to live with us a few months ago. Usually on days off, I try to get at least three miles in with the dogs, do some writing, a couple hours of Bible study, lots of cooking, or some volunteer work; I am addicted to achievement. While Mom is usually content to spend hours sitting out back in the fresh air, watching the trees sway, I'm trying to figure out my next big thing; the next project that will give me the sense of accomplishment I crave. Sick, I know. And wrong. But thanks to Mom, these days, "moving forward" no longer applies.

This morning was rainy; no outdoor woolgathering for her. I left for an hour or so, making sure the TV was on downstairs. Columbo! When I got back, Mom was sitting in a chair at the kitchen table. Books, catalogs, puzzles were well within reach, but she was just sitting there petting the dogs. I went to shut off the still flickering TV, and found every light in her room on, as well. In the kitchen, she'd merely rinsed off her cereal bowl and spoon, leaving them on the drain board with the clean dishes. She was wearing a heavy sweater although the temperature had risen to about seventy-some degrees. I say all this because with dementia, there is rarely progress. No matter how many times I urge Mom to work the "muscles" of her brain with a puzzle or some reading material, she will not do it without prompting. No matter how many times I ask her to ensure the lights are turned off, it does not occur to her the room is unusually bright when she leaves it. Nor does she hear the TV still droning. Asking her to use soap to wash the dishes, leave the door unlocked when we're outside(!), take your shoes off in the house, clean her dentures, or dress in layers in this weather, is pointless. Even mothers raising children cling to the promise of "moving forward", progress, maturity. With dementia, not so much. Day after day we have the same discussions -- or not; we go through the same routine, with little to no change whatsoever. And if there is progress in an area, chances are something else has slidden back. For someone who measures her value by the good she's done, the volume of work she's produced, or even the quality of the relationships she has, that can be disastrous.

I am guilty of buying into the lie that "moving forward" is synonymous with winning. I'm not used to having the Judi Train derailed by ten minutes of explaining which pair of shoes to put on -- especially when I know I will be having the same conversation again tomorrow. The second the delay is over, I want those cars right back on track: laundry, post office, cleaning, bill paying. With dementia, the next derailment could be minutes or hours down the track. No predicting a meltdown; no heads-up on a "redo." But taking this ride too seriously can lead to frustration, depression, and a lot of other "-ions" we don't need. Instead of expecting more than good sense allows, I am learning to stop thinking like a corporation, place my value squarely in My Savior, and take some time out to watch the trees sway. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to dial back my slightly twisted brain, but I can stop it from believing "moving forward" is the best measure of success.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Familiar Landscapes

I hit a deer on my way into work this morning.
The dog bit someone I was looking to have come in regularly to help with my mom.
$500 spent at the shop on Monday; Tuesday my truck threw itself into Reverse after a sudden stop.
I washed a brand new pair of "dry clean only" pants.
The clamp Scott purchased was stripped before he ever even used it, but not before he already had the plumbing torn apart.

NEVER a dull moment. But I've learned. I'm learning. I used to wonder why we always seem to take one step forward and two steps back, but I've come to realize it's not that at all. I could just as easily look at it as though we were taking two steps back and one step forward. Do we need to be so obsessed with progress? Whatever distance we travel eventually leads us into familiar landscapes. Our lives should not be about "getting ahead," or prosperity, or even succeeding in this world; our lives are a journey -- nothing more. On that journey we can choose to emulate Jesus and point others to Him, or we can choose to obsess over the direction we are taking, or have taken, or should be taking, or even, dream of taking. We can even obsess over the direction others are taking. In the end, we are held accountable for our journey -- not where we went, but why we went; after all, the "where" is more dependent on the "why", than the other way around.

I had a car accident almost three years ago. At the moment the other car hit me, I was singing along with the praise station on the radio. I almost lost my mind when I thought the other driver was fleeing the scene; but as I spoke with him, it was obvious this was nothing more than an accident, a miscalculation. I was concerned he would be cited, and even pleaded his case to the responding officer. I tried to make the whole situation as easy as possible for everyone involved: the other driver, the officer, the tow truck operator, the claims agent, my employer. Two months later, many rants on the phone and off, I was still fighting with the insurance company to have my vehicle repaired properly. And yet, I traveled that part of the journey much more easily than I would have, say, ten years before, because Jesus was and is my stronghold. And because of all the other less than appealing landscapes I'd seen prior to that leg of the journey.

Today, I was praying moments before I hit that deer. When the dispatcher answered my call I spoke as calmly and succinctly as I could, so he could do his job easily and effectively. I notified work that I'd be late. I spoke pleasantly to the officer who was forced to shovel deer carcass off a dark road at 3AM. I filed the claim as soon as I got home from work. I traveled this part of my journey with purpose. Not a purpose that whines about a deductible or the inconvenience of days without a vehicle -- though I know those things are a part of this journey, and I can't promise zero whining; I'm still flesh and blood after all -- but a purpose, a "why" that sees pointing to Jesus, living an eternal life, glorifying the kingdom, and trusting in Jesus as my stronghold, as its ultimate goals.

The "where"? Nothing but familiar landscapes, and that's ok; I'm getting comfortable there.